Humboldt Beacon ends after 110 years; publisher cites urgent need to cut costs

The Humboldt Beacon newspaper -- a local institution that has informed the Eel River Valley for more than a century -- will cease publication, Times-Standard Publisher Dave Kuta announced Monday.

After Thursday, Dec. 8, a short version of the Humboldt Beacon will continue on as a section in Thursday editions of the Times-Standard.

The Times-Standard will also cease publication of its Monday print edition after Jan. 2. The two cost-saving moves included layoffs of a Times-Standard photographer and the Humboldt Beacon editor.

"None of these decisions were made easily," Kuta said in a company-wide memo announcing the decision to staff Monday afternoon.

"The next few weeks will be difficult ones, but I'm confident we will be able to move forward in a stronger position to face the challenges ahead."

Kuta cited a down economy that has led to sagging advertising revenue and increased costs associated with production and distribution as reasons for the decisions, which he said were made over the last month.

Both the Times-Standard and the weekly Humboldt Beacon are owned by Denver, Colo., based MediaNews Group, a privately-owned company founded in 1983 by William Dean Singleton that operates more than 55 daily newspapers in 11 states with a combined daily circulation of around 2.5 million. MediaNews Groups' parent company, Affiliated Media, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January 2010, and emerged in March under the majority ownership of its more than 100 lenders, led by Bank of America.

Kuta said Monday's decision was made locally and not handed down by MediaNews Group.

"All the decisions are local," Kuta said, adding that he was asked to reduce expenses but was free to do so as he felt was in the best interest of the papers he publishes -- the Times-Standard, the Redwood Times, the Humboldt Beacon and the Tri-City Weekly.

Asked if the Times-Standard is still a profitable company, Kuta indicated it is, to an extent.

"It depends on what you call an acceptable profit margin," he said. "We're not where we should be, otherwise we wouldn't be making these changes."

The Humboldt Beacon was first published in Loleta in 1901 by Gustave A. Jasper, a former minister, who moved the paper to Fortuna in 1902. After Jasper's death in 1947, the Beacon was owned by veteran newspaper man J.D. O'Dell, who eventually ceded control of the paper to his son, Patrick. The younger O'Dell expanded the paper, eventually forming the Humboldt Group/Preston Properties conglomerate, which included a television satellite news magazine, a job press operation and the Humboldt Beacon.

Patrick O'Dell also built Fortuna's tallest building -- the Preston Center on South Fortuna Boulevard -- to house his various operations.

In 2005, O'Dell sold the Beacon to MediaNews Group. The Main Street office was closed in April of 2009 to lower overhead costs, and the Beacon editor moved into the Times-Standard building in Eureka.

Franklin Stover, who started as a staff reporter with the paper about five years ago and has served as its editor for the last three, said he was saddened to learn of the paper's impending closing Monday.

"In its almost 111-year history, it had only three owners and suffered through two world wars, two fires and the Great Depression," Stover said. "But the current recession and changes in the newspaper industry have been too much for this small weekly paper to withstand. ... Over the course of the last five years, I have become very attached personally to this paper as a symbol of the Eel River people, and feel honored to have been placed in this position."

Ferndale City Manager Jay Parrish said the Humboldt Beacon's closure will leave a void.

"I live in Rio Dell and I'm the city manager in Ferndale, and it's one of the only sources we have that lets us know what's going on other than the Ferndale Enterprise and the Times-Standard," he said.

"It's been an important part of this community for a long time and I'm saddened to hear the news. ... I'm sorry to hear of such a long-historied newspaper going out of business."

The Times-Standard, Kuta said, will work to fill the void left behind by folding the Humboldt Beacon into the Times-Standard's print edition on Thursdays. Additionally, Kuta said the Times-Standard will continue to post stories on its website on Mondays.

Moving forward, Kuta said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of more changes. He said newspapers face a dynamic environment -- not unlike those faced by the automobile, real estate and mortgage industries -- that could necessitate action.

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